Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Breakthrough!?


Moving Silhouettes, 12 x 21 inches, oil on linen


As we keep practicing and getting better at this painting thing, we have little breakthroughs from time to time. In the beginning, it's all about technique – I remember when I had an a-ha! moment about color harmony, and another about paint viscosity. These little breakthroughs are what keeps us hooked. We learn new things, and the more we learn, the more obvious it becomes that there's so much we don't yet know. And yet, somehow we know that if we keep trying,  we'll get there - where ever "there" is. If we didn't have that conviction what's the point in trying? I'm not happy just making one so-so painting after another. Are you? 

But as you know, the climb ain't easy. The more technical knowledge you amass, the harder it becomes. The breakthroughs start happening much less frequently, and the plateaus become higher and farther apart. It's not uncommon to start thinking that we'll never get any better. We've peaked. This is as good as we'll get. The slump lasts longer, the despair darker. Sound familiar?

You know what I think? I think it's because– partially, anyway– as our technique improves, the breakthroughs become less about the technique and more about expression. Finding our voice. Coming to terms with our identity. Now that's pretty heavy stuff. I mean, anyone can paint a tree. How do you make it your tree? Am I talking about style? In a way, yes. but see, here's the problem. Consciously created style is, by definition, contrived. I know that's absolutely true in my case. In searching for my own voice, I've tried –and found– my "style" over and over again, only to realize each time, it was contrived and wasn't really my identity. Just another schtick, if you will.

I've come to recognize my tendency to get excited about some little discovery or another and convincing myself that this is it! this is my style! It's easy to delude yourself when that particular breakthrough happens in a successful painting. You know what I mean? But invariably, after two or three paintings in that "style", I get bored. The novelty is gone. It wasn't my style, after all. Depressing. 

If I'm lucky, I will have gained some kernel of knowledge or a piece of the puzzle in my pursuit of my identity - or the recognition thereof. But it's all so fragmented and vague. It's not quantifiable. I can't even articulate it. It kinda sucks.

But the good news is, that I have a test for determining whether a new discovery is at least a part of my true identity or not. If I get bored of it after two paintings, then the answer is no. Accept the defeat, and move on. At least I know what I'm not. The process of elimination continues.

So for the past twenty years or more, I've been searching, discovering, testing, and always getting a negative result. It has never stuck.

That is, until now.




28 comments:

  1. This is seriously one of the most true and valuable writings I've ever seen on a blog. I feel better. Thank you.

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  2. Wait! I totally agree with you up until the final statement. You have moved ahead. I don't know your earlier work, but it seems to me to be inevitable. Do not give up. Do not think for one minute of a negative result. Your work is lovely and the impact you have is formidable. Keep up the great work!

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  3. Good post, Terry -- it's true you can't force a style...it develops on it's own. Like that old John Lennon lyric; "life happens while your making other plans..." Plus the fact that other people (our work)differently than we do. Like looking in a mirror, you see a reverse of yourself, but get used to it as how you think others see you, when in fact it's a false image of the true. I don't think we ever get to the finish of our development as painters -- it's very existential, but I just read a quote by John Asaro about art confirming our world and ourselves. I like to believe every great painter could have been even better if he lived longer...so there is no final destination -- just the will and integrity to keep striving. You're right where you should be by the way (as a very accomplished painter) but I'm with you -- there's more to accomplish...much more.

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  4. Terry,
    You are speaking my language. It feels good to identify with what you are saying. I mean, I'm encouraged. So yes, you have found something and it has finally stuck? That is huge. Glad to know it. I had a feeling about this most recent series you've been working on. Something really special there. Congratulations on your success.....

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  5. Thank you for writing this post. It has served as a positive affirmation for many doubts I have been having lately with my own journey. I adore your work and your posts serve as a true inspiration. I’m fascinated by the way you paint on un-stretched canvas and wondered if you have posted any info on adhering your dried paintings onto board?

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  6. Wow! This is such an insightful post. I did feel this when trying to adopt the style of artists I love, but it was never as clearly understood as you have articulated here. Thank you so much, the test you have mentioned is surely going to help a lot.
    Sometimes I feel, the urge to deliberately develop a style is one bad thing that comes along with so many good things that come from observing and studying the styles of great artists instead of their philosophy.
    One more thing I wanted to thank you for .... its so comforting that artists who are as accomplished as you also get that occassional "sucks" feeling and so amateurs like me need not be disheartened.
    Best wishes,

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  7. Yes, yes, yes.......all of it....a wondrous post. And don't we all feel it? But I decided awhile ago to stop worrying about it, stop striving for that elusive 'style'. I see something of interest and I paint it, no planning, no drawing , no thinking, no technical stuff and no theories.
    Fabulous paintings...and there was a time that I would try to paint just like you!

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  8. It's taken me 3 sessions but I've gone through your entire blog and find it so valuable! You have a great sense of clarity with your 2 left brains in outlining your intentions and goals. A terrific resource. Another commenter has also asked: what adhesive do you use to mount canvas to board and what board; do you gessoe it?

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  9. I am definitely in the 'who am I' stage which has actually been going on for some time. The great ones learned from other greats sure, but they were 'themselves'. Always the student. Well stated Terry.

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  10. Thanks Kathryn! I appreciate that~

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  11. Suzanne, I am not giving up! Not that I can, if I wanted to LOL. Please stay tuned for my next post :-)

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  12. Great analogy Eric~ and yes, I agree there's no end to this. Reminds me of this Hokusai quote; "At seventy-three I learned a little about the real structure of animals, plants, birds, fishes and insects. Consequently when I am eighty I'll have made more progress. At ninety I'll have penetrated the mystery of things. At a hundred I shall have reached something marvellous, but when I am a hundred and ten everything I do, the smallest dot, will be alive."

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  13. Thanks Randy~ I'm actually extremely excited about my progress. I just don't want to show it too much yet for fear I might jinx it. Because it's never "stuck", and always have been a dead end, I'm very skeptical. But I've done thirty paintings... and it just keeps getting better so I think I'm ready to believe it.

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  14. Thanks Mike! Keep on pluggin', is all we can do!

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  15. Maggie, thanks. The paintings on loose canvases are mounted on MDF boards (Medium Density Fiberboard - available at hardware stores.) with carpenter's glue. Like Elmer's or Titebond. You'll want to use a less runny formulation (sometimes it says no-drip on the container. Less moisture = less shrinkage = less buckle) if you can find it.

    If you're concerned about PH neutrality, you might use Miracle Muck. I have heard regular carpenter's glue is pretty close to neutral, though I don't have any data to confirm or deny it. It hasn't affected my paintings from 10 years ago.

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  16. Vinayak, thanks for that~ Glad this stuff rings true with you. I think we're all on the same path, you know what I mean?

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  17. Sharon, good for you! Try as I might, I can't not overthink about all this. It's just my nature, I guess. Knowing what I should or shouldn't do doesn't mean I follow my own advice. hahaha~

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  18. Hi Lorraine, and thanks for taking the time to read all my ramblings! I'm encouraged to keep posting :-)

    See my response to Maggie's comment for the info on glue. And no, I don't gesso the board. Don't particularly see the need for it.

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  19. Thanks Barbara - I graduated from art school in 1990 so I've been searching for at least 21 years! Some people just know who they are from the get go. for the rest of us, it's a loooong journey~

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  20. Good post Terry.
    Eagerly awaiting the next.

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  21. I can only completely agree with everything that has been said here. I, too, have been in the dark pit of despair after many personal triumphs on this painting journey. Thank you for reminding us that there is light ahead.
    Your work and words have always served as an inspiration...you have proved yourself once again.
    Thank you,
    Theresa Rankin

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  22. Thanks Thomas! Thanks Theresa!

    Yep, it's a journey all right. I got to a new plateau, and am trying to make the most of it before I hit the next wall of despair (which is a matter of when, not if) :-)

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  23. Thanks so much for clarifying what your break through was; reading your post really hit home for me as an artist and is making me examine my goals and what I truly am drawn to paint. I beleive if you can identify what and how you like to paint eventually an artists voice is found and the work becomes their own and recognicable to others.

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  24. JacMac, thanks! And I agree with your insight. It's not easy though!

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  25. ...not that you implied it was easy ;-)

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  26. I just discovered your blog and this post speaks to my angst. Ditto on all of your thoughts and struggles. My wondering is . . . Are there some "personality types" that get bored more easily than others? I ask because I have known artist that just keep doing the same thing over and over again (for years) and others who are always changing style and subject matter. Voice is illusive and I believe comes without recognizing it as the "it." Keep these thoughts and words coming as your progress. This is GOOD stuff.

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  27. this post resonated with me to the core. I came back to read it a second time. i really like your 'test' too, helps to eliminate the stuff that doesn't mean anything. after all, painting has to manifest into more than production and become about the creative process. Good writing!

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